My children, there could hardly be a more important book for you to read, understand, ponder and internalize than the book of Proverbs. You are going to discover soon enough that while there are many Christians, there are not many wise Christians. Most Christians believe that if you believe in Jesus, that is enough. And that is enough for salvation. But it is most certainly not enough for a life well-lived. A life well-lived requires insight, prudence, and understanding what is right and just and fair. It requires knowledge and discretion, learning, understanding, and wisdom. And Proverbs promises all of these to its students. I’m more convinced than ever that this book would have saved me from the vast majority of my self-inflicted wounds. I’m more convinced than ever that the more I internalize this book, the more fully, usefully, satisfyingly and joyfully I will live. Hear, my sons and daughter(s?), your father’s instruction.
I get this question just about every week, and I never quite know how to answer it.
Or rather, I don’t know how to answer it in under 10 seconds, which is the time frame most people are looking for when they ask a question.
The 10-or-fewer-second answers I have are: (1) “I don’t know,” which is actually true, but not particularly informative; (2) “When God tells me to,” which is also true, but comes off as flippant—like I don’t really want to answer the question, so I’m punting to God; (3) “Maybe next year. Maybe in five years,” which may or may not be true, for all I know; and worst of all, (4) “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer” (followed by no explanation whatsoever).
If you’ve had lunch or coffee with me and received answer #4, you know it’s the worst one because once you’ve received it you have to make the uncomfortable choice of either saying, “Oh, okay. Nevermind,” and risk making me feel like you don’t really care enough to hear the long answer, or you have to commit to buckling up and listening to an attention-span-testing monologue.
There may be an easy solution to this problem. From now on I’m just going to say, “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer. So, I wrote a blog post about it, if you’re interested in the long version.” I already know that people are going to say, “Oh. Well, give me the short version.” (Insert answer #1, #2 or #3 here) But it’s worth a shot.
Q: So… When do you think you’re gonna be a pastor again?
A: Man… Thank you for asking that. I guess I don’t know for sure why you’re asking it, but I think I know why, and I really appreciate it. Being a pastor was an unbelievable honor, and the fact that people wanted me to be their pastor and were actually sad when I wasn’t anymore is mind-blowing to me. And I don’t say that with any kind of obligatory faux humility. It’s… I honestly don’t how to wrap my mind around that. So, thank you.
Here are the things that come to mind when I try to formulate an answer to that question (in no particular order):
First of all, I really like my job. And I’m good at it. Which is a very rare combination that I don’t want to take for granted for a second. I love my team. I love working with very high-caliber people. I love my bosses. I love their vision for doing real good in the lives of people. I love my clients. I love that I get to employ a large swath of my skill set in this role. I love the rewards that come from doing this job well. I love being welcomed into people’s homes. I love helping people make wise decisions. I love being trusted as a guide and advisor. No one in their right mind would leave this job and this team.
Is this job the purpose of my life? Of course not. But I don’t know too many guys whose purpose in life is their job. My best friends—the best guys I know—are all among the best in their field in sales, finance and music. None of them have made their job their purpose in life. Their purpose in life is clearly to know Christ and make him known. And that can be done well without getting paid for doing it.
I might be made to be a pastor. That might be what I’m supposed to do. I guess that remains to be seen. But my purpose in life is to know Christ and make him known. And I don’t need to get paid to do that in order to do that well.
Second, being a pastor sucks. And it’s the sweetest vocational calling imaginable. And it sucks.
Maybe I should unpack “it sucks” a little bit…
Earlier this week someone on my team at work asked me whether being a real estate agent—especially this time of year, in a booming market, on a very driven team, when 60+ hour weeks are common, and I’m away from home several nights a week on appointments— is harder, or whether being a pastor is harder. My response was that it’s a very different kind of hard. For the most part, I can deal with my current vocational fatigue with one full day off. If between Friday night and Sunday night I get in a date night with my wife, a good run, some time in the Word, play time with my kids, and a few pages of a novel, I’m pretty much good to go for the five days that follow. In other words, there are distinct times in my life right now when I’m not a real estate agent. I’m much more clearly a husband, or a dad, or a Bible student, or a runner, or a reader, or a House of Cards fan.
That was never really the case when I was a pastor. When I wasn’t at the office, I was a pastor-husband (“Is my marriage a good example to my congregation?”), a pastor-dad (“Am I raising my kids to be example-setters for my congregation?”), a pastor-Bible-student (“How would I preach this text?”), a pastor-runner (“God, I need you to download a sermon outline into my brain by the time this 5-miler is done”), a pastor-reader (“Are there any good anecdotes in this novel that I could use as sermon illustrations?”), and a pastor-House of Cards-fan (“I probably should watch this show if I’m going to be able to engage with real people, not just squared-away church-goers”).
It’s exhausting. The spiritual, mental and emotional fatigue of being a pastor is staggering. To never really turn off being a pastor is an enormous struggle for most pastors. And not just for pastors. Also for pastors’ wifes and pastors’ kids. And certainly, a lot of that is pastors’ own fault. I certainly should have worked harder to create margin, to shut my pastor-brain off, and to say “no” to more ministry opportunities and responsibilities. But some of it is inevitable. It’s just part of what you sign up for when you say ‘yes’ to being a pastor. And, what’s more, the devil knows it. He makes a living out of shredding tired pastors.
All of that to say, I want to make sure I’m ready for that, and that my family is ready for that. Don’t get me wrong. Being a pastor is an amazing vocation. “You’re going to pay me to read the Bible and help people understand what it means and live it out?! You’re going to pay me to have coffee with hurting people? You’re going to pay me to help people become the best, most God-saturated version of themselves? You’re serious?!” It’s almost unbelievable. It’s an incredible privilege. I can’t describe how happy it made me.
But I want to make sure I’m ready for the spiritual, mental and emotional onslaught as well. I’ve spent the last 21 months with my heart and soul plugged into a monitor to assess my health, get rid of disease, heal, and make sure that I’m as strong and robust as possible if I’m called to head back into the fray. I think I’m there. God’s redemptive and renovating power is as advertized, I’m happy to say. But I want to see a clean bill of health from people who are in a position to give it. Which leads me to…
The third thing that comes to mind is this: It’s not really up to me. I’m only one of the people who has a significant say in whether I become a pastor again or not. I’ve invited at least a dozen people in on that decision, and I take them all very seriously. Some of them are friends. Some are pastors and church leaders. Several of them are people who know me, my heart, my tendencies and struggles, my strengths and virtues, and my character better than anyone else in the world. The most significant one, of course, is my bride. Leslie has absolute veto power over any plan I devise, any opportunity I want to pursue, any interview I want to take, or any church plant I create in my mind. If she’s not a million percent on board, it’s just not happening. So… ask her.
Fourth, and most importantly, I’m not going to be a pastor again until I have a very clear sense of a call. I had an undeniable sense of calling to be a pastor for almost six years, and it came with two crucial elements: A group of people asked me to come be their pastor, and God said, “Yes, I want you to go do that,” in a way that I couldn’t possibly ignore or deny.
A calling to the pastorate doesn’t come with a guaranteed lifetime appointment. This isn’t the Supreme Court. There’s no tenure track in pastoral ministry. Maybe I was supposed to be a pastor for a season of life, and now I’m supposed to be a real estate agent for the rest of my life, pastoring my family, loving my neighborhood toward Jesus, and offering my gifts in service to a local church as a layperson. I spent six years urging men and women who weren’t pastors to do pretty much exactly that.
I can’t deny that I’m a dreamer. I make plans in my mind, and scrap them, and revise them, and scrap them again, and start over…. I doubt I’ll ever be able to turn that off. But none of it will ever take shape unless there is a clear sense of calling. I’m not telling God how he has to do it. He can do what he wants. I’m just anticipating that when and if it happens, it will be because a group of people said, “Would you come do this?” and God says, “Yes, I want you to go do that.”
So, there’s the long answer. What can I say? I’ve never been good at short answers. I never had a problem figuring out what I was going to talk about for 35 minutes on a Sunday. My problem was always figuring out how to cut out 25 minutes worth of material to get it down to 35.
Maybe I should be a pastor.
A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 7:1-8
← Part 15 (6:9-17) ΑΩ Part 17 (7:9-17) →
Okay, where were we?
Somewhere between the sixth and seven seal being opened, unfurling God’s plan and purposes for the rescue and restoration of his broken world. Right? We’re at the point of no return in the Book of Revelation. The symbolism and imagery of the book are getting more and more thick and vivid and, frankly, strange.
As the scene opens in chapter 7, we meet four angels who are standing at the four corners of the earth (Don’t laugh. God knows the earth doesn’t have corners. But he’s speaking to people who don’t know that yet. Nice of him, if you ask me.) And John tells us that the angels are actually holding back a cataclysm that they’re about to bring on the earth. Another angel—a direct representative of God himself—arises and speaks:
“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” (v. 3)
And then John hears the people of God being “sealed.” We’ll talk about “sealing” in a moment, but it’s important to understand who these “144,000” people are who are being sealed. As we’ve seen before, numbers are almost always symbolic in apocalyptic literature, including in the book of Revelation. So it’s very unlikely that God is literally sealing 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. After all, even the tribe names are rich with symbolism here. Notice that Judah comes first, instead of the firstborn, Reuben. This is no doubt because of the preeminence of Jesus, the lion of Judah. Dan is nowhere to be found, likely because lots of Jews believed that the anti-Christ would come from Dan. And Manasseh, one of Joseph’s children, subs in for Dan.
Twelve is, of course, a particularly symbolic number that we’ve already seen in Revelation. In chapter 21, we’re going to see that the New Jerusalem—the “capital city” of the new heavens and new earth—is going to have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on its gates, and the foundations will have the names of the twelve apostles, both of which symbolize the completed people of God—both Jews and non-Jews. The same idea is at work here. The people of God as a whole are being sealed.
A wax seal was, in John’s day, a way to keep a scroll closed and untampered with, as we’ve already seen. But a seal could also be used as an identifying mark. For example, I have a stamp in my library at home that impresses a personal seal into all of my books, so that when people borrow them, they remember that they don’t own them and (hopefully) return them. The seal marks out the books as mine.
That’s exactly what God is doing here. God is saying to the entire world and all the forces at work within it: These people are mine. Jews and non-Jews, men and women, people from every language and ethnic group and nation—all who commit themselves to God’s Christ by their confession and by their lives—are marked as God’s special possession. And here, he is marking them out for protection and rescue from the very forces that will soon sweep through his creation to cleanse and purify it.
As we will see in 7:9-17, this doesn’t mean the people of God won’t suffer. All throughout history the people of God have suffered, and the present and future will be no exception. We in the West haven’t felt it as acutely. The first two centuries of Christians in America were a historical aberration in that Christians didn’t face persecution much at all. But we will. It is coming.
But the message of this text to the followers of Christ is: You will come through this. Not because you’re strong. Not because you’re good. But because you’re God’s.
What an incredible gift, honor and privilege to be God’s beloved. You almost can’t put words to it. It’s amazing to know that God is our guard when the world revolts against him and his people. He hasn’t left us alone to fend for ourselves while he watches, like some general who sits on his horse, far off on a cliff while his soldiers are slaughtered in the valley below. He’s with us. He’s at the front. He leads the charge. His shield doesn’t crack. And he knows each soldier’s name.
God, your maker, king, general and savior knows your name. You matter to him, because you’re his. Does that knowledge embolden you in your endeavors for him? It should. May it be so for all of us.
Hey there, TWOG readers.
I enjoyed posting some thoughts on this blog last week and I think I’ll do it more often. I also have a blog about drums and music, and I frequently post there as well. Below is an article I wrote last year on that blog, which I thought the TWOG audience might enjoy. The post deals with the broad topics of “art” and “music,” but I definitely had the more narrow focus of “Christian music” in mind when I was writing.
You Cannot Serve Both Music and Money
“Capitalism kills art.” – Desdamona, Minneapolis hip hop and spoken word artist (via Facebook)
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 16:13)
Over the years I’ve thought a TON about the correlation between art and commerce, and those of you who read my blog regularly are familiar with my interest in the collision of music and industry. At this point I’m starting to arrive at the conclusion, perhaps better phrased as a question: Could it be that art and commerce, though inseparable in the 21st Century, are actually enemies?
Here’s my thesis: Introducing the possibility that your art will/could produce a financial profit irreversibly changes your headspace in making the art, therefore altering the end product.
Example: this article from Somali poet K’Naan.
Art is all about the headspace – what one is AIMING for. Why create? Why pursue art at all? Most artists will tell you it’s kind of like the combination of birthing a child and speaking your mind. It’s simultaneously something you want to say and need to say, while also being painful and even dangerous if said incorrectly or at the wrong time. What if nobody thinks your offspring is cute? What if speaking your mind leaves you at odds with your friends and loved ones? (Bear with me as I rotate metaphors.)
In the current landscape of music, the motivation to accurately and genuinely convey an artistic message crashes uncomfortably into the desire for approval from one’s audience. But what/who is your audience? What are you aiming for from the outset? This is the crux of the issue, and my theory is that it is more difficult than we might imagine for an artist to intentionally cater to both an artistic audience AND a market audience. In fact, it may be impossible. And I’m not using “artistic audience” to refer to a gathering of people who only listen to indie rock and only wear vintage clothes. I’m talking about speaking your message to those who wish to really hear your message (an artistic audience), as opposed to speaking a message to those who only want a certain kind of message from you (a market audience). Can both targets be simultaneously aimed at?
This is not to say that artistic success doesn’t sell. Many artists have set out to convey a message that they really believe in and found to their surprise that the market also enjoys the message. But that is almost beside the point – what the market is buying has never really been about art. Commerce is based on pleasure and enjoyment – preferring one thing over another and spending your hard earned dollars accordingly. And sometimes the market takes great pleasure and enjoyment from unexpected places.
Sharp-shooting metaphor: One cannot, with the same bullet, hit two separate targets… unless perhaps those targets are directly in line with each other. But then you would have your aim set only on the first target, which would be the only target you could even see, and the second target would be an after-effect. I’d submit that the order of those targets, in order to hit both, MUST be art first, with commerce hiding behind it. The commercial gamble of the artist is to aim toward the artistic goal, not knowing whether commercial success is hiding behind it.
Summary so far: I want to suggest that one does not (maybe even cannot) land on a both commercially successful AND artistically successful statement by directing one’s aim toward both artistic and market audiences simultaneously.
If you replace the word audience with “master” you can see where Jesus was going with the New Testament quote I included at the top of this post. Jesus digs a little deeper into the hearts of human beings by using hard-hitting terms like “hate” and “devoted,” but the point still stands. Jesus says his followers must choose who they will serve, the Kingdom of God OR the Kingdom of Economy. Interestingly, only a few chapters earlier in Luke, Jesus also teaches this:
“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”(Luke 12:29-31)
Worrying about wealth/provision isn’t your job, but is rather God’s job. Focusing on serving God’s Kingdom is a better use of time, and God promises to take care of the other department. Could it be that this is also true for the artistic/commercial tension in music? Aim for the artistic target, and the commercial target will be added unto you.
A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 6:9-17
I love the board game Risk.
If you’re not familiar with the game, it was created by a Frenchman a little over 50 years ago, originally as a game called La Conquête du Monde (“The Conquest of the World”). No doubt the frenchie was a little nostalgic for the glory days of Napoleon and French world dominance. And, to be sure, La Conquête du Monde is infinitely better than “Risk.” Because, after all, the game is entirely about conquering the world. Sure, “risk” is a big part of the strategy of the game, but calling the game that is a bit like calling the game of basketball “Dribble” instead.
There’s really only two ways the game of Risk can end.
First, one player can eradicate the armies of all his (or her) opponents, thus completing his conquest of the world. That’s the most common way for a game to end. The other way it can end is when a player, irate over the decimation of his armies and disgruntled over a broken alliance on which he relied too heavily, that instead turned on him and hastened his demise, kicks over the board in the ultimate act of Risk jihad: “I’m as good as dead and mad as hell, so I’m taking all you jerks and your armies with me.”
It happens. I’ve seen it. After all, it’s La Conquête du Monde. It’s war, and things get messy in war. Especially when there’s also queso dip on the table.
As Revelation 6 continues, things appear to be growing bleak for God and his people. The four horsemen of verses 2-8 are wreaking havoc all over the globe, bringing conquest and tyranny, war, famine, poverty and death—all of the basic ills that continue to plague humanity to this day. Furthermore, we’re told, that it’s not going to end until a certain number of believers have been killed for their faith.
The faithful cry out to God: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?!” (v. 10). God’s perhaps less-than-fully-comforting response is to tell them to “wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, [are] killed just as they had been” (v. 11).
Tumultuous times and earth-shattering events are witnessed as the sixth seal is opened. John chooses the language of earthquakes and the moon turning blood red, stars falling and heaven and earth being rolled up like a scroll. As always, it’s important to remember that John is employing rich, symbolic imagery. As N.T. Wright observes,
“In the Old Testament, language about the sun turning black and the moon becoming like blood, the stars falling from heaven, and so on, was regularly employed as a way of speaking about what we would call ‘earth-shattering events’—not at all meaning actual earthquakes, but rather tumultuous events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the smashing of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001: events for which it is hard to find appropriate language except through vivid symbol and metaphor” (Revelation for Everyone, 66).
Obviously, the sun isn’t really turning black and the heavens aren’t really being rolled up, or this would be the end of the book. There would be no place for the rest of the story to unfold.
The point is that just when you thought the situation on the world stage couldn’t have gotten any messier or grown any more bleak, it does just that. Persecution, martyrdom, famine, war and death reach epidemic levels.
And the people of God cry out, wondering why God hasn’t just gotten up and kicked the board over.
After all, he did it in the days of Noah, right? Game over? Let’s start a new one? Clearly this one is lost. I mean… Look around.
But God is playing the long game. The enemy has made a mess of the board, strewing armies all over the map. But God has Alaska, Argentina and Greenland locked up (translation for non-Risk players: It doesn’t look like he’s winning, but he’s in a position of power). He is waiting for evil to do its worst, to display to the world fully the ugliness and bankruptcy of its self-centeredness and rebellion against its rightful king. Only then will his armies come flooding into the world, bringing God’s wrath to every corner:
“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev. 6:15-17).
“Wrath?… You mean justice and love and mercy and goodness, right? Wrath is such an ugly word. Would a loving God really be wrathful?”
Wrath is very misunderstood and completely underrated. Wrath is the supreme expression of the love of God in this context. God’s wrath is the eradication of injustice, corruption, of abuse, of poverty, neglect, hate, greed, pride, conquest, war and death. God’s wrath means the end of evil. There couldn’t possibly be a higher expression of God’s love for his people and his creation than wrath in this case.
It isn’t cruel to eradicate cancer cells. It’s loving. It’s good. It’s painful and ugly and never something one would choose—we could wish the body never got cancer to begin with. But it has. And cancer’s eradication is ultimately for the flourishing and renewal and life of the body.
In the same way, God’s coming wrath is not to be feared by his people. It isn’t an occasion in which he sets aside his love for a moment in order to loathingly do what has to be done. God’s wrath is an overwhelmingly benevolent, even violent outpouring of his love. It is to be celebrated and invited as the deeply loving act that will, at last, signal the defeat of evil and the death of death; the dawn of worldwide human flourishing and global joy.